Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tokyo - City of Contrasts, and Some Thoughts around Change

I recently visited Tokyo and became an instant fan. I have gathered input about Japan for some years, and helped prepare expats for their impending move to Tokyo, but nothing prepared me for the impact of this vast megalopolis. How to put my impressions of a whirlwind visit to Tokyo and Kyoto in a few words? “Stark contrast.” From the ear-splitting cacophony in Akihabara, the electronics shopping district, to the quiet, empty downtown streets on a weekday morning. From the Imperial Palace buildings and gardens to the ultra-modern architecture of the Roppongi district. From fleeting glimpses of geishas hurrying along the streets in the old district of Kyoto to the loud pop culture of Takeshita-dori in Tokyo.
This lead me to ask many questions, yet to be answered.
Who are the key influencers in society?
Who dares to break the mould, given the apparent conformity? Examples abound in everyday life: public “humility”, politeness. Bowing, smiling, apologizing (for anything and everything). The yellow dividing line on the floor in the subway stations, separating the flow of passengers moving in opposite directions.
How come the yellow line works here? Why not anywhere else in the world?
What constitutes a revolution in Japanese society? Overstepping the yellow line?
Is it a given that the change in society will come from the younger generation?

Around the same time as my visit, I read an article in the Financial Times, written by Brent Hoberman (a London based internet entrepreneur.) He raises the valid point that those who are living the digital transformation and revolution are under 30 years of age, whilst those that run organisations, whether in politics, media, retail, are over 40, if not 50. This was not intended as a criticism in any way, but rather as a statement of fact, pointing out the differences in communication of these two generations. The language of the internet is not the native tongue of the over 30’s! We over 30’s use it, but they live it!

So, in the communication of change, how do we translate our messages into “webspeak” to make sense to our target audiences. And is this not a strong argument for getting the “right” change champions on board? This implies a mix of generations, including those who can act as bridgers, or “bilingual” translators.

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